28 May 2015

Avoid “The Void?” Read the review and find out!

The Void is a horror/science fiction games that takes the cthulhu mythos and moves it into the year 2159. Published by WildFire (the creators of the cyberpunk/cthulhu-horror mashup CthulhuTech), it is available in both PDF (which is thankfully well bookmarked) and print on demand versions, so you will not be seeing this on the shelves at your friendly local game store. It clocks in at 242 pages (though the pages have a little less text that you would expect because the print size of the book is six by nine inches), the layout is professional, and the artwork is good.

Price-wise the PDF is a steal, literally, although it is intentional. The Void is sold as “pay what you want.” which can be zero (although, be cool and pitch in something. The printed version is not free). This seems to be an attempt to get people into the game with money to be made down the line through supplements. Without a physical store presence this is a good plan, and because the core rules are “free to play” (they do not intend to make much money from folks paying what they want) and released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License, I don’t see why this cannot be passed around in order to bring new players in to the game. This strategy worked well for Posthuman Studios' Eclipse Phase (which went further using the pass around idea even though it is available in brick and mortar stores).

The core rules have been published before, though under a different name and a different rules system. It was called Cthonian Stars, and was Mongoose Traveller compatible. Though this is a game I would run under a system I prefer, the change to an original rule set is a good thing for this game if you use it.  Traveller is a very middle of the road system, trying to be realistic. The Void’s system looks easy to use and includes some mechanics to make the role play more dramatic, like you would find in a film. It also has its own sanity system that is solid; you will feel the burn when your mind goes. Another good mechanic is the idea of triggered effects in your character’s talents (their name for advantages/edges), allowing for cool effects.  The Killer Instinct talent, for example, lets you bypass armor on a good hit. On glancing through there are few talents with triggered effects, however there is a player’s book out which probably includes more.

The Void is also missing some material from Cthonian Stars, mostly in the monster category, which has been moved to supplements. I was sorry to see that The Void traded out the included adventure in Cthonian Stars which I ran and enjoyed very much. Good news: the adventure was moved to their adventure supplement, Pandora’s Paths I: Adventures.

The book features several short stories that are well written and help to set the mood of the game and action. Sections on tech and spaceships contain what you would expect from a near future sci-fi background, but was very workman like and did not have anything innovative. The tech is based on extrapolation of current technology (which any good hard sci-fi tech should be), with really advanced computers and nanotechnology, but no lasers. Your gun will be firing lead which seems realistic considering the slow advance real world batteries are making in storage capacity.

The background is a typical arena for science fiction, with sub-light ships drifting between planets and bases. Travel between worlds takes time (Earth to Saturn takes 49 to 61 days). Because of the lack of faster than light communications, each location is somewhat detached from the others which gives a nice feeling of isolation to the bases and colonies. A world government controls Earth (there are still countries but it seems like they finally got a United Nations-type organization that works). Corporations are so large they almost have the influence of countries.

Locations of interest are described in the “Worlds” section. Each world has its statisics listed (atmosphere type, gravity, length of day/year, and so on), and is followed by a disappointing description of the location, lacking any in depth information to make the world come alive. Some of the locations will have supplements devoted to them which sound more in depth. If the decision was to save the best information for the supplements, it really gimped the descriptions in the core rule book.

This lack of detail also hurts the history section. It has a timeline of the near future, but nothing really grabs me. Most lacking is a sense that the growing danger of the mythos is really intertwined in the history. It is almost like the game is split into the sci-fi part and the mythos part, but they never really mix. Why do I need this background when I could have just mixed Call of Cthluhu and, say, Transhuman Space and basically have the same thing. Again, this may be fixed in the supplements, but without a core rulebook that grabs a person’s imagination, they may be lost before they consider buying more.

I need to contrast this to Eclipse Phase. While not a horror game (or at least a supernatural horror game; there are some damn scary things in there), it is an example of how to detail a universe that grabs and maintains player interest (I will review Eclipse Phase in the future). Everything in it works together, like cells in an organism. It may be interesting to hack it with Call of Cthulhu, discovering how cultists and mythos beings have infiltrated the future. Is a mythos entity in control of the TITANS? What is their real reason for forcing the evacuation of the Earth?

Another problem with this game is the TMC effect (Too Much Cthulhu). I will explain what that is in the next posting and explain how it negatively affects many games.

It does one thing that most horror games do not do well, and that is give a reason that the characters stick together. This was always a problem in Call of Cthulhu to me. Taking a hint from Delta Green, the group are a special response team looking to investigate the strange events happening and keep them secret from the public

In summation, I cannot reccomend the game as portrayed in this book, even though horror in space is an exciting and under appreciated genre in tabletop RPGs. Luckily it is basically free to try, and YMMV, so you have nothing to lose giving it a shot. While I have not read any of their five part cycle of interrelated adventures, I always love to see a company support their product with adventures.

For another point of view, there is a review on RPG,net.

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